I used to believe in God.
At least, I think I did. I probably believed about as much as any young child can, which isn’t much. I believed God was real only because the trustworthy sources in my life told me he was real. But when I was around ten, I shed my faith, and it was replaced with doubts, which ultimately won over when I was about twenty.
It’s easy to come to the conclusion that Noah’s Ark is just a little too far-fetched to be true, or to think that you really can’t make a baby with just a “holy spirit”. But there were a few things that I was taught in church and throughout my conservative Lutheran upbringing that took a lot longer to get rid of.
Even when I didn’t explicitly believe in “sin,” I thought that being gay was kind of unnatural. More-so, and for a much longer time, I thought abortion was murder and that you didn’t have to believe in God to think so. Thankfully, I now believe in both marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose. I believe in equality as a human right, to the furthest extent in which I believe that human rights exist.
In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, women have never been allowed to be pastors. They never have been, and they probably never will be. I’ve always been so used to the fact that I’ve barely noticed it, either before or after I left the church (mentally and then physically). This tradition, specifically, was so ingrained in my mind that years ago (I was already an atheist), when my husband first told me that his old United Methodist Church’s pastor was a “she,” I had the entirely subconscious thought of: “Oh… well then… they must not be as ‘True’ and ‘Biblical’ a church as the LCMS.”
That’s the scariest part about indoctrination. Half of your beliefs are subconscious. You don’t even know you have them until you catch yourself unintentionally thinking vile things. I had never truly given this idea the light of day until I saw this run-of-the-mill tweet from the LCMS last week:
It stopped me in my tracks. For some reason, this tweet was what finally got me to shed that last layer of apathy in regards to the teachings of my former religion.
Allow me to say again what I’d always—always—heard, but never questioned until literally last week:
Women are not allowed to be pastors.
In the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, women are not allowed the same opportunities as men. There is a job—one of the highest jobs one can hold—that can only be held by a man.
In my experience in the church, I never witnessed any kind of huge revolt or even unrest about this from women. I don’t know of anyone who had a burning desire to become a pastor but who was prohibited because she happened to have been born with a different set of gametes. I believe that this is because it’s so deeply rooted in their culture that it just sounds insane to even see it as unfair. And I know that anyone who’s lived this way their entire life would agree. But I don’t care.
It’s baseless discrimination. The injustice is self-evident.
After my epiphany of how revolting and archaic this rule is, I went on a quest. I wanted to know what possible reason this church could put forth that justifies this style of governance. I knew it probably wouldn’t satisfy me, but I wanted to know under what circumstances did these men think this was a normal or ethical way to run a church in the twenty-first century.
I found a variety of sources from the church and its members, but this document seems to be the most official record of their beliefs on women’s ordination. It’s from the LCMS’s official page on their beliefs, and specifically from their “What About?” series.
Primarily, the document uses the following Bible verses to tell us “What God says about women serving in the pastoral office”:
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says …what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:33–34, 37).
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent” (1 Tim. 2:11–12).
“The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Now an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim. 3:1–2).
“This is why I left you in Crete … that you might appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife…” (Titus 1:5–6).
Personally, I think it’s hilarious that they used these verses to justify their position. That’s because these are the kinds of verses that I always see atheists using to try to win an argument with a Christian, especially a female one. It’s the kind of verse you see on a Girl Defined video along with a comment saying, “See? The bible says you’re not supposed to talk! Or haven’t you read it?” Then the Christians say something about how you ought to interpret it in such a way that you don’t need to follow it.
But the LCMS, in all its misogynistic glory, will shamelessly exclaim “Women should keep silent!” from the rooftops. The rest of the article is essentially the cop-out that “We do not tell God that His gift is not good enough for us, or that we don’t like the form in which He has given the gift,” and “We must leave the answers to these questions to God. We remain with what has been given to us by God in His Word.”
This article, fifty pages longer than the first, does have a lot more details on the “role” of women in the bible and within the LCMS. On page 32, the interpretation of the aforementioned verses comes up. It makes sense that the writer(s) had a hard time understanding 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says”) in light of 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved”), as Chapter 11 seems to permit women to pray and prophesy, and Chapter 14 commands her to keep silent.
I’m not a scholar, but I don’t think that Chapter 11 is explicitly saying anything about a woman’s permission to speak, especially about her permission to be a pastor, but rather whether or not her head should be covered. (The author’s response to the head-covering rules are, by the way, essentially “We don’t do that anymore.”) Either way, it somehow throws a wrench into the idea that women should always be silent.
The article spends some time trying to translate which version of the word “speak” was originally used, but they eventually come to the conclusion that “Full clarity perhaps is not possible,” and all we know for sure is that women are not being commanded “absolute, unqualified silence,” only that “they [should] not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching-learning aspects of the service.”
It just seems way too convenient to me that even when there is some contradiction and fuzzy interpretation of these verses, and when women can sometimes speak and sometimes not, the only thing that God Almighty Himself made absolutely clear to us is that women cannot be pastors. At least that’s what we, the male writers of all of these documents, and we, the male pastors, made of the writing from the bible’s male authors. It only makes sense that we, the men, should have every position of real power within the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. We’re sure the women agree.